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Madagascar Government Negotiates With Coup Plotters

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Representatives of Madagascar's president are negotiating with troops who declared a coup Wednesday but are now holed up in their barracks.

Witnesses say the streets of the capital, Antananarivo, are calm and traffic is moving normally as the negotiations continue.

On Wednesday, a group of about 20 military officers told a news conference the government was dissolved and that a military council would take charge of the country.

But by day's end it was clear the officers did not control any government institutions. Speaking to reporters, President Andry Rajoelina and Prime Minister Camille Vital vowed to take action against the mutineers.

The unrest occurred on the same day Madagascar voted on a new constitution. If passed, the new charter would solidify Rajoelina's hold on power. He seized power in a coup last year.

Initial returns showed voters approving the new constitution but voter turnout was below 40 percent.

Several hundred protesters tried to block security forces from reaching the rebels at their barracks late Wednesday but were dispersed by police using tear gas.

The spokesman for the rebel officers, Colonel Charles Andrianasoavina, was one of Rajoelina's main supporters during the coup that toppled President Marc Ravalomanana.

The Rajoelina government has said the new constitution will help stabilize the country following nearly two years of political turmoil. Critics say the charter will neither resolve the country's political crisis nor win international legitimacy for Rajoelina.

The new constitution does not set a limit on the duration of Mr. Rajoelina's transitional government. It also would lower the minimum age for a presidential candidate to 35, clearing the way for Rajoelina, who is 36, to run for office.

Madagascar's three main opposition movements had called for a boycott of Wednesday's referendum.

Article by VOA News